I’ve spent more than 20 years shaping, delivering, fixing and observing change programmes, of many shapes and sizes for many reasons. But I have rarely seen true transformation – and yes there is a difference between the two.

Most of the change I have seen is focused on doing what the organisation does, but in a better way. Better is usually defined as more profitable or more effective.

Of the few transformations I have seen, the organisation is fundamentally changing their mindset, their way of operating and raison d’etre. Sadly, they fail, a lot. They fail because it’s hard – it requires people to change their own mindsets and ultimately themselves. It’s uncomfortable, uncertain and scary. It cannot accommodate ego’s, thiefdoms or political shenanigans. It requires transparency, belief, confidence but most importantly an unprecedented level of trust.

But it is so very worthwhile. On the other side of true transformation lies the ‘unfarmed fertile land’ of endless possibilities. Those possibilities are endless because the people have transformed and grown – beyond their own purpose to something bigger. Their capacity to innovate, their appetite for knowledge and ability to connect with one another, creates an infinite amount of passion, motivation and energy, to constantly evolve and ‘build on the shoulders of giants’.

The words that Steve Jobs used to persuade John Sculley, Pepsi executive to join Apple, pretty much sums up change versus true transformation for me “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

So, if you want to grasp the opportunity to make the world a better place, then transform your organisation but first of all transform yourself.

Not sure where to start? Then pick a challenge, any challenge and see where it takes you.

Humanity and compassion

Encourage, enable and motivate every employee to take time out every few months to go and volunteer for a ’cause’.

They are free to choose the cause but it must adhere to the following criteria: 1. no less than 1 day 2. involve a vulnerable part of society 3. be at the ‘front line’ of the cause

And why you may ask should an organisation do this? What value will it bring? What is the ROI?

This practice will ensure three critical outcomes: 1. Bring humanity and compassion to life throughout the organisation via tangible action 2. Help people retain their sense of perspective, focus on their strengths and reach their potential 3. Encourage people to judge less, listen more, share more and therefore connect far more effectively with their colleagues.

The ROI – it’s priceless, simply priceless. People feel good about themselves when they can help others. People thrive when they are in a community built on shared values. People need meaning and a purpose. It is within the gift of the organisation to enable all of this so let’s just do it!

Challenge your raison d’etre

Bin the plans, take a fresh approach – ‘the mission’.

The aims of your mission, should you choose to accept are to:

  1. Articulate in no more than two sentences your raison d’etre – ask everyone in the organisation to write it down. Analyse the results, you will either have your answer or you are lost, in which case pause for thought and agree your raison d’etre with those who matter – your employees
  2. Define your key values – ask everyone in the organisation to name their top three values to be adopted in pursuit of the raison d’etre. Analyse and compile a majority – if that is not possible, dig deeper, do you need more than three? If so then choose more than three but not more than five. Why five? Because you have to stop somewhere else it simply becomes impractical!
  3. Ask each team to articulate a) what and how they will contribute to the raison d’etre b) how they will bring the values to life c) what budget they require and d) what requirements of leadership and the organisation do they require to deliver their part of the ‘jigsaw’

Voila, your planning is done.

Next step – deliver the mission, review outcomes real time and change what needs changing when it needs changing based on information from those who know.

Inspire people through their environment

Build an environment capable of inspiring and caring for your community. It’s important never to under-estimate the impact our environment has on our ability to be happy and to be content.

The working environment is the physical representation of the organisations culture, meaning and commitment to its community.

So, today’s challenge is to build that environment – put a library at the heart of it, to inspire the constant pursuit of knowledge, human connection and discussion. Create quiet, private spaces for inner thought and reflection. Build that trim track, get people outdoors to re-invigorate their bodies and minds. Provide a restful and alluring place to eat. Ensure daylight floods in from every angle so that mother nature can be seen and perspective retained. Give people the space and quiet they need to work but also the proximity to talk and reach out for help when they need it. But most of all, keep it classless – value everyone’s contribution and don’t play to the optical illusion of greatness being defined by the size of your office.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, this will take time so start today.

Plant your change makers

Change doesn’t just happen, like anything in life it requires passion, motivation, commitment and focus.

Create new roles across your organisation – the change makers. Allow them to roam freely, work alongside teams, attend meetings but most importantly make relationships based on trust.

Their job is to encourage and mentor people to embrace their creativity and change. They will question and provoke – ‘yes that’s a good idea let’s see if it works? Have you thought of looking at it this way? What about if we started again? Why can’t we do that?’

Give them budgets, empower them, trust them. Plant the seeds of change by sprinkling your change makers across the organisation to actively support and enable your teams to reach their full potential and build a culture of change.

Give birth to creativity in your organisation

Ensure that you have all of the ingredients required within your organisation to create creativity.

Creating something new or coming up with a new idea is made possible by taking pieces of existing knowledge and combining them together to create something new.

“No one is able to have new ideas. You are only able to make new combinations of two or more existing pieces of knowledge.” Fuster (neuroscientist)

On this basis simply recruiting creative people is not enough in its own right. The organisation also needs to play its part in two critical areas:

  1. Create new knowledge: recruit and create diverse groups of curious people to enable the development of new knowledge
  2. Combine that new knowledge to come up with creative ideas: Provide an environment that provokes and encourages the combination of knowledge to come up with new ideas – one way to do this might be by sprinkling change agents across the organisation as discussed in yesterday’s challenge.

Take a good look at your organisation, do the ingredients exist?

Tap into the passion of people

Understand the passions that your people have and give them some ‘off grid’ time to experience them.

Whenever a new employee is taken on, organisations generally make it their business to understand the persons experience, skills and ambitions. Usually, in very small print right at the bottom of someone’s CV are a couple of lines outlining their hobbies.

We need to turn this on its head. One of the most important things we need to understand about people is what make them passionate, what really makes their heart sing. So, make it one of the key things you get to know about them and also share your passions in return.

But then take this a step further – find time for people to indulge their passions. Give them ‘off grid’ time – say 1 day per month as a trial. Allow them, encourage them to use that time to do something that ‘makes their heart sing’.

When they come back into work ask them whether it has helped their motivation, inspired new ideas, contributed to their happiness but most importantly, has it enabled them to experience being ‘whole’ in their professional life? Bring the organisation to life by bringing the people to life.

Are you really ‘walking the talk?’

How real are your initiatives? Is your organisation ‘philosophising’ or ‘walking the talk’.

Ticking boxes on the latest hot topics such as well-being, diversity and innovation, to name but a few is no substitute for the ‘real deal’. In fact, raising the hopes of people in anticipation of a fundamental shift on a topic that is import to them and then not delivering can cause more harm than good.

So, don’t do it – yes you heard correctly, one of the few challenges where I am saying ‘not to do something’. Only promise change through initiatives if you are really serious about actually doing something different that will positively impact people.

Test yourself. Choose an initiative, one that has had senior backing and a big ‘noise’ associated with it. Then go out there and see if you have really ‘walked the talk’. Analyse whether the anticipated benefits have been achieved, conduct interviews, carry out surveys, observe behaviours – seek out the truth and be honest with yourselves about whether you have been philosophising or really creating change.

If not, why not? Take it on the chin and then really take action.

Walk in each other’s shoes

Once a month have a ‘role swop’ day. That means that each leader within the organisation gets randomly picked (good, old fashioned names pulled out of a hat) to swop with a randomly picked person from a team. Then just for one day they each have to do the others job.

For the leaders, it will inform, develop and bring more empathy as they start to truly understand what needs to happen in the organisation to make it work at ‘grass root’ level.

For team members it will do exactly the same but from a different perspective, allowing them to understand the competing priorities and difficult decisions leaders sometimes have to make.

At the end of each ‘role swop’ day both the leader and team member have a meeting, facilitated by a third member – from another team for objectivity, to analyse and feedback to each other on what they saw as the key challenges, strengths and potential to improve.

Give it a go, looking at things from a new perspective can be truly inspiring!

These are just a few of the challenges your organisation can do to ‘be the change you want to see’ or in the words of Barack Obama:

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Don’t wait, start today because today is as good as it gets. 


  • Nik Davis

    Writer - Managing The Hell Out Of Life


    First and foremost I am a mother, home-maker and 'change maker'. I have a portfolio career, all underpinned by one core philosophy - to make life better, by empowering us all to be ourselves.    As James Victore says “Your purpose is to figure out who you are."    I am passionate about finding a way to help us all live a more sustainable life, I call this my ‘Third Way'. To help us re-define what success looks like, to live more authentic lives and to be our 'whole' selves.   "Your biggest fear is not spiders or sharks - it's you. It's the fear of expressing who you are - lest someone actually see you.“ James Victore   And that is where the real problem lies, if we do not allow our true selves to be seen, we will never lead the life that we are meant to. And that leaves us with something far worse than fear - regret.   So I feel the fear and do it anyway  - each and everyday by living my Third Way.   On a practical level that means:   1. Helping organisations achieve the 'seemingly impossible' and experience genuine transformation, driven by engaged and motivated people.    2. Showing up and owning up, sharing my stories and challenges honestly, via blogging and vlogging, to help others embrace theirs and be their true selves.    3. Helping individuals to rise, find their way forward through discovery sessions, a combination of coaching and consulting techniques.    4. Being a student of life, constantly learning about better ways to live our lives, both at work and play, to share that knowledge and to help create curious and empathetic leaders - which we all have the ability to be, regardless of gender, age, seniority, function or anything else for that matter.    5. Running an artisan fashion and design business, to encourage us all to be ourselves and at the same time, respect our planet by recycling and up cycling.    My career has two acts, before and after my break, which I took to focus on my children and recover from PND, but I also experienced grief, discovered what mortality really meant and learnt a lot about this mad this called life.   I practice the management philosophy 'Teal', brought to life beautifully by Frederick Laloux, I follow the work of Dave Trott, James Victore, Dan Pink, Corporate Rebels, Claude Silver, Gabrielle Bernstein, Mark Manson, Kathryn Mannix and Johan Hari, to name but a few. If they enable me to 'build on the shoulders of giants' and make the world a better place, I'm interested.   I’m an eccentric trying to make the most of my life and that of others, each and every day.   Nik x